Sea turtles have always been Reannah Hollaway’s favorite animal. For her, they are creatures with fascinating lives and great beauty. Reannah is amused even by their awkwardness on land.
When I overheard a conversation at Texas Children’s Hospital about this young lady battling cystic fibrosis and wanting to meet a sea turtle, I was inspired to act.
My wife Lisa and I are the founders of Wild Wishes®, a program that makes wildlife encounters possible for children with a critical illness or who are grieving the loss of a parent or sibling.
Within two months, Reannah got to meet a sea turtle at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, and she and her friend Lauren Scott got to release rehabilitated, injured green sea turtles, courtesy of the Amos Research Keep.
“It was such an amazing experience. Setting those turtles free made me feel alive and motivated me to help wildlife,” Reannah said. Two weeks from beginning college at the time, she changed her planned major and is now a senior wildlife biology student at Texas Tech.
The experience of seeing someone dealing with a serious health challenge and dedicating herself to wildlife resulted in a new facet of our outreach. We call it Higher Calling Wildlife.
Teens who come through Wild Wishes® and have a conservation interest are mentored in using social media to spread conservation awareness. This is done primarily through expeditions where skills including photography, writing and speaking on camera are emphasized. Youth with artistic talents are encouraged to use them for wildlife’s sake.
Emily Odom came to the program eight years ago after tragically losing her father. She recently responded to a crisis involving tarpon in a most expressive way — with a sketchpad and pencil.
“They are such majestic, mysterious fish,” said Emily, 17. “When I found out juvenile tarpon died in the freeze on the Texas Coast last year, I wanted to help. I drew a special print we are passing out at schools with information about the species.”
Emily is excited about a tarpon art contest sponsored by Higher Calling Wildlife. Students are invited to submit depictions of tarpon using any medium. Winners will get special prizes and will be included on our Higher Calling Wildlife website and in social media.
The deadline for entries is June 15, 2022. There are three divisions: elementary (K-5th grade), middle school (6-8) and high school (9-12). Entries will be accepted as photos or scans of the artwork and must be submitted to [email protected] along with the student-artist’s name and grade, parent’s
name and phone number.
Both Reannah and Emily said being part of the Wild Wishes® family and now partaking in Higher Calling Wildlife have been life-changing experiences.
“Losing my dad was a terrible thing to go through as a little kid, but getting involved with this saved me in many ways,” Emily said. “I have a lot more joy and purpose in my life than I would have if I had never met the Moores and been exposed to wildlife and learned to help it in such a positive way.”
Reannah, who is healthier than she has been in years, said she never dreamed that a sea turtle encounter would inspire something like Higher Calling Wildlife.
“It gives me hope that others can find their voice for wildlife conservation as I have,” she said.
During quiet moments of reflection, she often thinks of the very turtle she released.
“I wonder where it is and what has happened on its life journey,” Reannah said. “If other young people like me can have similar experiences, maybe they can focus on things like sea turtles or tarpon instead of all of the bad things out there and use their talents to help wildlife.”
For information on Wild Wishes®, Higher Calling Wildlife and the tarpon art contest, visit HigherCallingWildlife.com.